The blog this week was written by George T. Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. This current economic downturn has provided us with ample evidence that our status in life can change quickly. We can lose our homes, our livelihoods, and then our standing among our relationships. We may have to receive unemployment compensation or even some form of support like food stamps. The welcome we get, if we get it, is altered. We bear a kind of stigma. We have had to receive this outside help. It does not matter that this support is made available to us through a due process of law. Our status can change even without a negative shift in our health. People don’t regard us in exactly the same way, subtle though the change may be.
Anyone who has had to receive any kind of defined assistance through public funds can tell you that you rarely get welcomed, supported and respected when you get help. Yet, very few of us have been able to get where we are in life without some form of public support. People receiving such support have to meet eligibility criteria which usually carry some kind of stigma.
We know from experience that we can only get beyond stigmas placed on any group of people among us is by getting to know a person in that group as an individual. We know someone as John, rather than John who has been institutionalized in some way. Then we can see John as we see ourselves.
Once John and I enter into a relationship, we form community. Each of us is equal to each other as a human being. We may have different attributes or talents, but the relationship gives each of us the same standing in life, even if our current status may be different. If John should happen to get laid off from his job and have to receive unemployment compensation, he is no different. Yet, those of us around him may treat him differently. Because he has to receive this organized support, that is public in nature, he can gradually become less in our eyes. We don’t welcome him among us in the same way. Our respect is tempered by that slight change in John’s status. We have to learn to continue to affirm that community we share, regardless of any status shift.
We have to reach some kind of basic understanding that John is like us, his external standing in the world does not alter that basic commonality. Without that bedrock common ground our humanity is dependent on factors sometimes beyond our control. As a basic human right being welcomed, supported and respected have to be accorded, regardless of any shift in our standing in life.
Some people are one paycheck away from being homeless. How would it affect your 'bedrock' status and change your self-perception if that someone were you?